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Subject: Context-Sensitivity

Dear All

At yesterday's meeting, I suggested we might start focussing on context-sensitivity in using DITA for Help. To start some in-depth discussion on the subject, here's some food for thought. 

DITA embraces the objective of separation of content from form. How something "looks and feels" when it is presented to the end user happens during the processing of the DITA, rather than in the authoring of the DITA. Context hooks (the means of identifying a Help topic so that it can be opened when the user calls for Help at a particular point in the software application) might be considered to be part of the "delivery functionality". If CS is part of the "form" or presentation, and not part of the content, then perhaps the context hooks should be stored outside the content?

If we look at how Help Authoring Tools (HATs) such as RoboHelp work, particularly within the Microsoft HTML Help paradigm, we will find that the context hooks are stored in a map file separate from the content. The map file stores the relationship between topics and context hooks. The map file is edited with a software utility that is essentially separate from the HAT application. The hooks are not "authored" into the content. 

Is this the best approach? Should we be authoring the context hooks into the content as metadata, and then extracting them into map files, context files, etc, during the processing? Or should we be storing the CS hooks separate from the content, presumably in an XML format of some sort?

What does everybody think?

Tony Self

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